by Courtney Dabney
Over the years, there were many memorable occasions at Aventino’s, from dates back in high school to New Year’s Eves and even rehearsal dinners. The romantic and intimate setting was the perfect backdrop, along with the welcoming family service that the Westside had come to expect.
Well, Aventino’s is back. Around the first of the year, the restaurant reopened in a new location just down Camp Bowie off Lovell.
To be honest, the interior and decor are not as cozy and warm as they had been previously. Perhaps that is because the size of the dining room (effectively two areas separated by a kitchen in the middle) has about doubled in size from its previous locale. White cloths draping tabletops were punctuated by black wooden chairs.
The concrete flooring, exposed black ductwork overhead and sparse walls seemed a little cold. I wish they had taken the drapes all the way to the ceiling across the glass-fronted space to give a better sense of enclosure. And the color scheme of chocolate brown and cream is a little bland and not in keeping with the appetizing menu. I did like the two oak wine barrels flanking the front door. But, the dining room could use a little more polish and color.
But we’re here for food.
There was no argument about our appetizer. The Carpaccio with Garlic Bread ($11.50) caught everyone’s eye, and we were not disappointed. It was gorgeous with paper-thin slices of tender, bright red beef fanned around the edge of a white plate. The meat was sprinkled with capers and cracked black pepper and then drizzled with both Dijonnaise sauce and olive oil. Crunchy slices of toasted baguette were arranged in the middle. The dish offered up great flavor and was the perfect eye candy to start the meal.
My table sampled many items for our main course. All came with a house salad, which was just the way I remembered it, with crunchy romaine lettuce, thin cucumber slices, grape tomatoes and a tangy red wine vinaigrette full of dried herbs. The filled Baked Ziti ($13, with meatballs $15) was simple and not overly sauced or cheesed. The marinara and ricotta were blended together completely. The small meatballs were a nice addition. It was simple and tasty but not spectacular.
One of my friends generously ordered the Tortellini Aventino ($15.25), which had always been one of my favorites, so I was eager to see how it compared to my fond memories. The fresh cheese-filled tortellini pasta is mixed with sautéed onion, ham, green peas and bacon in an Alfredo cream sauce. The large portion and pasta were just as I recalled, but the toppings were a little sparse.
I tried the Ravioli Carciofi ($14.25), which features artichoke stuffed ravioli dressed in a creamy pesto sauce and topped with sautéed mushrooms. I couldn’t taste much of the artichoke inside the chewy pasta pockets, just the creamy ricotta cheese filling. Maybe a few quartered artichoke hearts sprinkled across the top would bring out the flavor. But, the basil pesto cream sauce was interesting, and it made for an enjoyable meal.
We also ordered the Chicken Cacciatore ($16.50). Layers of fresh spaghetti followed by a rich and pasty homemade marinara sauce with mushrooms, green bell peppers and onions were topped with a chicken breast. It was a huge portion and packed with flavor.
The conversations and the crowd didn’t begin to die down until after 9 p.m. We completed the meal by splitting a Cappucinno Pie ($4.50). It had a chocolate graham cracker crust and a rich coffee-flavored filling.
You might call this Aventino’s 3.0 since the original restaurant was owned and run for decades by Al and Olga Paez. It was then given a complete overhaul from interior design to original menu items, which was the high-end reinvention of their talented son, Chef Derrick Paez, who now serves as the private chef for a wine club in Dallas. This new version of Aventino’s is owned and run by their daughter, Erica Hight, who grew up in the restaurant as well, along with her husband Chris who serves as chef. They are both young, energetic and eager to please.
I spoke to father Al Paez, who happened to be there greeting familiar faces the night we visited.
“Chris and Erica know what people are expecting,” he said. “They are coming to taste all the favorite dishes they grew to love and have been missing.”
He’s right. That was surely the case for me. I’m sure that over time the Hights will put their personal stamp on the menu, but for now they are happy to rest on the laurels of their familiar menu and serve up customers who are glad to have Aventino’s back.
Located at: 5800 Lovell Ave.
For reservations call: 817.570.7940 $-$$
Open: Mon.-Thur. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. & 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. & 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m, Sat. 5:30 p.m.-10p.m., Sun. closed.